A recent interview by Gretchen Rubin with Rob Walker, author of The Art of Noticing, prompted me to pull his book from my bookshelf. It is one of those books that is easy to pick up and open just anywhere. Short essays riff on a theme or inspire less obvious observations.
Rob Walker’s adaptation from Adam Grant’s work around what he calls “conditional thinking” is thought-provoking and salient.
Looking for an answer instead of the answer can shift and broaden your vision.Walker, Rob. The Art of Noticing (p. 40). Knopf. Hardcover Edition.
Adam Grant’s conditional thinking is demonstrated by this experiment. One group is presented with “This is a rubber band.” The other group is presented instead with the suggestion, “This could be a rubber band.” Among the group of conditional thinkers, about 40% realized a rubber band could also be used as an eraser. (Rob Walker, pg.39). Just the word “could” primed one group to stretch their thinking and actively seek new ideas.
I am restlessly preoccupied with what seems, too often, to be lazy thinking around public policy topics. This struck a chord that I wanted to share. Perhaps, if you are reading my blog, it strikes a chord with you as well.
Few passion-fueled motivations undergird entrepreneurship more fundamentally than “This is what I have in front of me. How can I leverage what I have? How can I create value that someone else needs or would welcome to make their lives somehow better?” Yet determined policymakers who have enormous confidence in government solutions continue to limit an environment that allows for that critical freedom. Too many rules and regulations carefully stipulate what we can and cannot do.
We have to start stretching and stop the persistent chasing
A similar concept is developed by Scott Sonenshein, author of Stretch. His theme is that we too often resort first to chasing. This involves the limited thinking that the only way to accomplish a goal is to seek more resources. What we miss, at great cost, is more powerful thinking. What can I do with what I already have?
We routinely overestimate the importance of acquiring resources but even more significantly underestimate our ability to make more out of those we have.Sonenshein, Scott. Stretch (p. 4). Harper Business. Kindle Edition.
If you have browsed my website, you will know that I have focused heavily on the grand paid family and medical leave policy scheme promoted as the solution to work/life balance. For all my tortuous writing, I couldn’t say it any better than these ideas above. We simply have to stop looking for the solution and recognize the much more fruitful approach of looking for a solution. All of us. And sharing them in the greater circle of human to human connectivity. Far superior to single default solutions are incremental changes that leave us options as the world around us changes.
There are likely some valid roles for government, but history is not on our side for limiting those to what government might be best suited for. Forward-looking, incremental, and adaptable thinking is hard to come by in the overgrown institutional landscape we now have. The rubber band experiment above might yield “if only we had two rubber bands, …
This mindset has become a standard default – that we cannot move forward without seeking new resources.
There isn’t any one public policy topic I can imagine – from social dilemmas to the environment to taxation – that doesn’t risk adopting this serious operational flaw of limited thinking. What a shame. How can we do better?